February 22, 2017

Last year, Mashable laid off about two-dozen employees, cutting its politics and international reporters in a push for more video.

So, how’s that going? The reorganization of the company, which saw Chief Content Officer Gregory Gittrich replace Editor-in-Chief Jim Roberts “wasn’t an easy stretch,” Gittrich said. But Mashable has some good news — unique visitors and revenue are way up, and they’re hiring.

More specifically: Unique views of Mashable content are up 78 percent year-over-year, and revenue has increased 36 percent, the highest it’s ever been, Gittrich said. The company has surpassed 320 million monthly video views, a 452 percent increase over the previous year.

The key to this growth is focus, he said. In recent months, Mashable has zeroed in on culture, entertainment and tech coverage to the exclusion of everything else. They’re now aiming to please “superfans,” the type of obsessives who binge-watch Netflix and queue up for the latest and greatest gadgets.

“These superfans are the early adopters,” Gittrich said. “They’re the folks who are interested in ‘Game of Thrones,’ but not the recap of the episode. They’re interested in the fan theories and the smarter angles about what’s going to happen next. That same audience loves to hear about Elon Musk and whether or not we’ll get to Mars.”

They’ve also prioritized quality over quantity, Gittrich said. In January, Mashable published 2,715 stories. Last January, the company published 3,470 stories. The decision to intentionally cut production stems from a belief that delivering a smaller dose of high-impact journalism would entice readers to share at a greater rate.

Data indicates that decision has paid off, Gittrich said. The average story is now shared about 4,977 times. A year ago, share counts averaged 2,423.

That focus has meant saying no to a lot of general news hits, said Executive Editor Jessica Coen, a veteran digital editor whom Gittrich hired from Vocativ in October.

“We still cover news, but we’re less interested in the incremental updates, and we like to do what I think of — traditionally I would call it a ‘day two’ story, but now we approach it as an ‘hour two’ story. I’m less interested in getting the quick hit and more focused on taking a beat, thinking about it and having a more original take.”

In eschewing cheap scale, Mashable is on the crest of a wave that has caught other news organizations, too. As ad blocking becomes increasingly common and tech giants like Facebook and Google gobble up an increasing share of the advertising market, many publishers are tailoring their coverage to appeal to increasingly granular audiences.

In the case of news organizations like The New York Times, the focus on sophisticated readers is an attempt to convert casual consumers to subscribers. In Mashable’s case, it’s about maximizing influence on social media, where the company makes an increasing share of its money through branded content.

More than half Mashable’s deals now include branded content — stories that promote a product or idea — and that content is published on all of the company’s platforms: the website, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, to name a few.

“We know all content views are not created equally, and we’re prioritizing where to invest based on (two questions),” Gittrich said. “‘Can we reach a valuable audience?’ and ‘Can we drive revenue?’ That focused brand and using data to help guide us at all different parts of our creative process have really paid off.”

The decision to exclude politics coverage might seem imprudent, since President Trump dominates nearly every subject. But Coen says Mashable has decided to focus on reactions to Trump administration decisions within Mashable’s narrower remit.

“Because we don’t have dedicated political coverage, we’re more focused on either moments that worked from events or how people are reacting to the world around them right now,” Coen said. “Instead of focusing on the Muslim ban itself or announcing that there’s going to be a Muslim ban, we’re more interested in how Air BnB are going to open its doors to people who have been displaced by that.”

These “hour-two” stories have helped Mashable distinguish itself amid an onslaught of Trump coverage, she said.

Mashable’s staff is smaller than it was a year ago, but the company is growing, Gittrich said. Total company size is hovering around 270, down from 320 before layoffs hit. They’re looking to bring aboard people who can create visuals for emerging platforms and expanding Mashable Studios, an L.A.-based video production outfit.

Ultimately, Mashable’s new approach is undergirded by the assumption that the company isn’t just competing against a few specialized tech-focused competitors, like Gizmodo, The Verge or Recode, Gittrich said. Since so much content is available, Mashable has to set itself apart with more specific content.

“We literally compete with anything on your screen,” Gittrich said. “We’re competing for your attention more than anything.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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